Agriculture

Richie Farmer Could be on Ethics Commission Agenda Monday

Mar 18, 2013

The Executive Branch Ethics Commission has a meeting set for Monday when they could decide whether former University of Kentucky basketball star Richie Farmer violated any of rules when he was state agriculture commissioner.

Farmer was accused in a state audit last year of using Department of Agriculture employees to take him hunting and shopping, mow his yard and chauffeur his dog. Those accusations and more were passed along to the Ethics Commission.

Farmer served two terms in the elected-position of agriculture commissioner. He ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 2011.

Kentucky's agriculture leaders are supporting a new five year strategic plan to help the industry in the state.

The plan, put together by the Kentucky Agriculture Council, puts emphasis on agriculture education, creating new markets and recruiting new people to farming.

The plan runs through 2018 and has the support of Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer.

Gov. Steve Beshear also supports the plan, which he says is a extension of the first agriculture strategic plan presented to him five years ago.

Farmers in south-central Kentucky are discussing a partnership with a state park that would lead to more farm-fresh foods being served at the location.

The Glasgow Daily Times reports farmers around Barren River Lake State Resort Park met recently with chef Rick Lenoir to discuss a partnership in which he would purchase more local goods to serve at the park's Driftwood Restaurant.

Lenoir, who started working at Barren River Lake State Resort Park last summer, said his preference is to use locally produced food.

"I want folks to be more aware of what we have around here," Lenoir said.

The chances for some form of comprehensive  immigration reform in the U.S. appear to be growing, with President Obama and a growing number of Congressional leaders saying they're willing to take on the emotional issue.

Any change to how immigrants receive citizenship or permanent legal status would have a big impact on America's farms and livestock operations, which depend heavily on immigrant labor.

WKU Public Radio's Kevin Willis spoke Wednesday with Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer about how immigration reform might impact farmers in the Bluegrass State.

Here are some excerpts from their conversation:

Given your personal experience as a farmer in Monroe County and your job as Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner, what do you make of the national discussions concerning new opportunities for immigrants to earn either citizenship or at least some form of permanent legal status?

"I've talked to Sen. McConnell and Sen. Paul about this issue, and we need immigration reform in the agriculture community in Kentucky. Anyone who drives up and down the road and sees farmers who are growing crops like tobacco, or vegetables, or has a dairy operation--they will see immigrant labor."

Understanding that veterans have a higher unemployment rate than the population as a whole, Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer is launching two programs to help veterans find work.  The Homegrown by Heroes initiative will place a label on food items produced by Kentucky veterans. 

It's like the Kentucky Proud symbol, but includes a flag in the background and a veteran saluting.

"We've been getting calls from many other states and this is something I believe will be a nation model as a way to help market farm products by our military veterans," Comer remarked at a news conference Tuesday at the Boone National Guard Center in Frankfort..

Comer is launching another program called Kentucky Proud Jobs for Vets.  The initiative will maintain a database of farmers and agri-businesses looking for workers.  The database will be shared with military support groups like USA Cares.  Comer says many people like hiring veterans because of their strong work ethic and service to the country.

Kentucky’s agriculture commissioner is leveling criticism against the Environmental Protection Agency regarding a pollution control plan in Jefferson County.

In an interview with the Courier-Journal, James Comer came out swinging against water quality sampling conducted for the Floyds Fork Pollution Control Plan. The waterway serves as a focal point for Louisville’s newest string of parkland, but it currently fails to meet federal water quality standards. Comer says he’s worried that water quality sampling done at the site could result in new EPA regulations.

The Monroe County native says he’s especially concerned at the prospect of the EPA imposing new rules on how much fertilizer farmers can spread on their fields. But EPA officials and the Kentucky Division of Water both say the federal government doesn’t have the authority to impose limits on fertilizer applications and farm runoff.

Kevin Willis

Despite experiencing one of the worse droughts in U.S. history, agriculture economists in Kentucky are projecting record cash receipts for the state’s farmers.

During their annual outlook during the Kentucky Farm Bureau conference, economists from the University of Kentucky say they think Kentucky will break the $5-billion barrier in revenues this year.

Lead economist Will Snell says high prices for many crops -- along will increased exports and insurance payouts  -- helped offset the drought for many agricultural industries in Kentucky.

Kentucky's agriculture commissioner says he sees no reason why the state can't double its agriculture sales in the coming years. James Comer tells WKU Public Radio high commodity prices helped Kentucky set a record of $4.9 billion in agriculture receipts in 2011. He says by helping Kentucky farmers increase production and gain access to new markets overseas, sales could skyrocket.

A program dedicated to showcasing Kentucky food could be headed to a Walmart near you. Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner James Comer says the world's largest retailer has agreed to stock Kentucky Proud shelves in some of its Bluegrass State stores, which would contain food and other products made in the commonwealth.

Kevin Willis

While the recent rain in our listening area is certainly a welcome sight for farmers, it comes too late to save the crops that have already been devastated by the drought. Still, WKU agriculture professor Todd Willian says the rainfall could help crops that are harvested later in the year, like soybeans.

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